SPREADING THE ‘FIVE STAR HIPPY’ EXPERIENCE : JOHN SPENCE – CHAIRMAN AND FOUNDER – KARMA GROUP
Karma Group is an award-winning international travel and lifestyle brand offering extraordinary experiences and exclusive curated entertainment in the world’s most beautiful locations.
From soulful spas to happening beach parties, historic hotels to design resorts, Karma Group is created for five-star travelers who understand that reaching their destination is only the start of their journey.
We had the pleasure to interview John Spence, Chairman and Founder of Karma Group this month.
With over twenty five years experience at the forefront of the hospitality industry, John Spence sees himself more as an entertainer than a businessman. In the early ‘80s, John cut his teeth as a music agent in London before moving into property sales and marketing. The entrepreneurial chairman and founder of Karma Royal Group now has an impressive portfolio of brands under rapidly expanding and multi-award winning global Karma Group – Royal Resorts, Karma Resorts, Karma Estates, Beach Clubs International and Karma Spa – with recent acquisitions in Europe and Japan spearheading the upcoming launch of Karma Ski.
Q: You are a trailblazer in the global hospitality industry; tell us how it all started?
John: In the early ‘80s, I started as a music agent in London representing bands such as Culture Club, the Eurythmics and Bananarama before moving into property sales and marketing where I found my true calling. In 1993, when I visited Goa, India, I knew I had found the place I wanted to develop my first resort property. Using cash injection from my life savings, I founded Royal Resorts to pioneer vacation ownership in India and South East Asia and began by developing the first Resort – The Royal Goan Beach Club in Cavellosim Goa. That was a huge success and diversification outside India followed with projects in Bali and Lombok, Indonesia, Gold Coast of Australia, Chiang Mai and Phuket in Thailand.
Sensing the need to diversify, in 2002 I founded Karma Resorts and introduced the concept of boutique villa resorts in Asia, allowing clients to purchase freehold villas. I had the vision for Karma Resorts to be the pioneer in the luxurious private pool villa experience, offering expansive holiday residences with access to five-star amenities.
Q: Why do you name it “Karma” group?
John: “Karma”, in Hinduism and Buddhism, means that the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. I believe in the concept of karma. I believe business need to contribute back to the community. I believe in the spiritual principle of cause and effect. It’s a positive cycle. This is especially true in Asia, where we have a lot of our properties. In addition, it’s a great name.
Q: In July 2013, you were honored by the Yale University School of Architecture, being appointed the Edward P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Architecture Fellow. Tell us more about this?
John: I was invited to participate as integral teaching members in Yale University’s advanced studios and seminars. Through this fellowship, I had the opportunity to meet many talented students; some eventually became part of my team in the organization. It is a tremendous honor to be the Edward P. Bass Distinguished Visiting Architecture Fellow at Yale University. I enjoyed sharing my passion for seeking, recognizing and realizing opportunities diverse global environments with the students. It was a way to give back to the society at a personal level.
Q: In 2015, the University of California (UCLA), honored you by awarding you a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Tell us more about this?
John: I am pleased to be invited to participate as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at UCLA. I greatly enjoyed my experience as the Edward P. Bass Distinguished Fellow at Yale University the year before, and I am excited and honored that a second top-tier American University has awarded me a Fellowship.
Included in the course work was “The Island, the Pods and the Glamorous – Contemporary Glamping in Remote Settings”, incorporating key finishing touches of actual resorts planned by Karma Resorts. In fact I intended to return to UCLA soon to continue the fellowship.
Q: You have created the “Five Star Hippy” lifestyle, tell us more about this?
John: When I was young, life was carefree. When I grew older, I wanted more comfort when I go for vacation. I wanted five star experiences but yet I wanted the carefree feeling. Thus I created a new five star experience and brand philosophy that has changed what staying in a five star resort means. Now famously referred to as the “Five Star Hippy” lifestyle, Karma clients flock to the experience. We held regular live events, live DJ performances, gin master-classes, members’ party, wine dinner, beach club etc at our Karma resorts to give you the “Five Star Hippy” experiences.
Q: You are known to be a passionate sports fan and patron of the Arts, tell us why?
John: I have always enjoyed sports, I like the teamwork. I encourage it in my organization. I believe sports could unite a team to perform at its best. In many ways, I see the parallels between work and sport. My company sponsored Perth’s Western Force Super Rugby team and the Perth Fashion Festival. Royal Resorts continues an association with the England Rugby team and the players can often be seen ‘recuperating’ by the pool in my properties. Further cementing my commitment to sports as well as to Rottnest Island and Western Australian Tourism, Karma Group recently announced the naming rights sponsorship of the iconic Rottnest Channel Swim. Commencing in 2015, the iconic sporting event is now known as the Karma Resorts Rottnest Channel Swim. Your work has got to be taken seriously and earn you money, but it’s also got to be like sport — fun, challenging and something you do for enjoyment. If it becomes just about feeding the family then you’re not going to enjoy it. And if it’s not enough of a job, then really it’s not going to be fulfilling. It’s a balance. I genuinely feel that my work is an adventure, every day.
Q: John, you were the 2010 Ernst & Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year, tell us more about this?
John: Catherine Brenner, Chair of the Judging panel, was particularly impressed by the focus and quality of Karma Group’s clear strategic direction. The judging panel felt that Karma Royal Group has taken on the big, global hotel brands and put a footprint in this very competitive market. They felt that I have seen opportunity where others did not. Most people would have looked at the global upmarket hotel sector and decided it was a saturated market but I looked at it differently and saw opportunity.
Q: You were awarded ‘Philanthropist of the Year’ by the American Resort Developers’ Association (ARDA) in 2006, why are you a supporter of various charities?
John: I am a supporter of numerous charities. For several years, my company has been one of the major sponsors of Christel House, a children’s charity in Bangalore, India. The charity also supports schools in Mexico City, South Africa and Venezuela as well as an orphanage in Bali. The core premise of ‘karma’ is one I avidly believe in and since Bangalore was the location of the first city centre office for Royal Resorts, it is no accident that I give a helping hand to the local community. My charitable work in Bali through the Bali Life Foundation reflects my respect and love for the Balinese people. Whatever you give to the universe, it comes back. That’s where the whole ‘karma’ thing comes from. We support many hundreds of children in Bangalore and in Bali. I believe it’s everyone’s duty to do what they can to help the world.
Q: Tell us what is your plan for Karma Group in the next 5-10 years?
John: I plan to double the size of the company. We opened new properties in Greece (Crete and Mykonos) and planned to buy into Cyprus. We opened in Germany (Bavaria) and intend to buy into Europe, because I felt it is a good time to do so. At the same time, Asia market is developing. We will be expanding in Vietnam, Japan, Philippines and India, just to name a few. Not forgetting America market, we will have a joint venture with a cruise company in the Caribbean. We will introduce new product to cater to the younger end of the market. Introduce a club for lower membership fees of $499/year. Probably buy into an entertainment company. I believe we could double the business when we execute the plan correctly. It is exciting time ahead.
Indeed, Karma Group is already comprised of Royal Resorts, Karma Resorts, Karma Estates, Beach Clubs International, Karma Spa and the upcoming Karma Ski and has undergone significant expansion to its global network in recent years. This expansion includes the acquisition of Karma St Martin’s on the idyllic Isles of Scilly in UK; Karma Reef on Gili Meno, Lombok; Karma Bavaria ski resort in Germany; the iconic Karma Rottnest on Rottnest Island, Western Australia; and the development of Karma Bahamas on Little Harbour Island, Bahamas. Not to mention the purchase of one of Europe’s iconic estates – the magnificent former country home of Laura Ashley “Le Preverger” in the Cote D’Azur, France and the “Final Release” at flagship property Karma Kandara in Bali, Indonesia.
Further expansion includes land acquisition and development plans in Brazil, Japan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Europe, North America, the Caribbean and one of the world’s most remote islands – Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. Karma is currently developing projects in Carcasonne, France and Spain.
Currently, John oversees three global divisions; Asia and Australia; India and Middle East; and Europe and Caribbean. The company has zero debt or leverage and is still 100% owned by John. It is the market leader in its field and is poised for dramatic growth with future projects providing a global reach and an array of distinctive destinations beyond any other boutique hotel group in the world today.
John Spence has spent his professional life identifying like-minded talent from around the world and welcoming them to the Karma Group team, gathering a dynamic group of independent thinkers who remain unfettered by a traditional approach and who think of the Karma Group as their own – from his graduate architecture students at Yale and UCLA, to the local employees at any Karma Resort around the world. “We strive as a company to embody the celebration of life, inspired by beauty and style, fitness and health, in the world’s most beautiful locations,” said John. “This, in turn, inspires our loyal, alpha lifestyle driven guests from all over the world who, much like our team at Karma Royal Group, relish challenging themselves by working hard and playing even harder.”
The future looks bright as John Spence and Karma Group continue to set industry benchmarks driven by his passion and innovation in providing new products to engage its over 60,000 members and loyal clients all over the globe.
More information at https://karmagroup.com/contact-us/